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How to Become a More Empathetic Listener

When the subject of how to be a good listener comes up, psychologists often talk about the value of “perspective-taking” — that is, projecting ourselves into the lives of those we’re listening to. This has been shown to make us grow more generous and less prejudiced toward them, but it’s a flawed way to understand others, because it treats empathy as a solo sport, encouraging listeners simply to try to understand what someone else is going through. What truly good listeners do, however, is work collaboratively with other people to understand them. Scientists call this “perspective-getting,” in which one person uses questions and active listening to understand someone else’s feelings. Perspective-getting boosts mutual understanding, improves relationships, and helps people discover common ground. In this article, the author, a professor of psychology at Stanford University, offers readers guidance on how to practice perspective-getting and get better at it over time.

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